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In Washington, entertainment makes its case for funding

'Arts are part of our cultural and economic main course; they are not dessert,' actor Tim Daly tells a House committee.

March 27, 2009|Ben Meyerson

WASHINGTON — As the economy stumbles, artists are feeling the hurt as badly as workers in other industries, entertainment professionals told a House committee Thursday. And arts funding, often a target when budget cuts are made, should be protected, they said.

The National Endowment for the Arts reported this month that 6% of all artists were unemployed in the fourth quarter of 2008 -- twice the rate of other professional workers -- and that the number of unemployed artists grew to 129,000 last year, from 50,000 in 2007.

In the current climate, Americans need to understand how essential the entertainment industry is to the economy, said actor Tim Daly, co-president of the nonprofit entertainment advocacy group the Creative Coalition.

"It seems to me that we too often look at art as something extra, a luxury item, something that is disconnected from our daily lives and our economy," Daly said. "It is my mission to make America understand that the arts are part of our cultural and economic main course -- they are not dessert."

Daly, who stars on the TV show "Private Practice," aimed to illustrate how entertainment reaches beyond the couch and onto Main Street:

In a single episode's nine-day filming cycle, his show spends $20,000 on catered food, $25,000 to $40,000 on clothes and costumes, $2,500 on dry cleaning, and $15,000 on set furniture -- all businesses outside the TV studio.

Trumpeting the arts as the country's second-largest export, Daly said he was appalled to hear an interview on National Public Radio in which $50 million for the NEA in the stimulus package was derided as "pork."

"It's such a minute portion of the budget, and that $50 million -- divided up among organizations -- can generate so much private giving and give so many people so much joy," Daly said. "There are good investments and bad investments, and that's a really good investment."

In addition to the stimulus package money, the NEA received $10 million in the recently passed omnibus spending bill, and President Obama has requested $161 million for the endowment in his proposed budget.

Thursday's panel of experts hoped that by showing that investments in the arts are prudent, it might persuade the committee to help secure future funding.

The tactic may have worked.

Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller (D-Martinez) compared the stimulus package's funding for the arts to President Franklin D. Roosevelt's initiatives during the Great Depression.

Roosevelt's "goal was to create programs that would help every American, no matter how poor, how hungry, how desperate," Miller said.

The troubles artists face today are having a "multiplier effect" on jobs, workers, communities and local revenue, he said. Helping them in their time of need could give a boost to the economy.

"These are industries that can help breathe new life into communities, towns and cities; spur economic growth; and help us build a stronger America," Miller said.

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bmeyerson@tribune.com

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